How to Make Your Thanksgiving Favorites Gluten-Free

A table laden with a gluten-free thanksgiving dinner

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The thought of making a gluten-free Thanksgiving dinner may feel daunting. After all, the traditional holiday meal tends to be high in gluten—think bread-based stuffing, gluten-thickened gravy, and pumpkin pie. But believe it or not, it's possible to make just about everything on the typical Thanksgiving table gluten-free without sacrificing flavor, richness, or the spirit of the holiday.

The key is to know where the gluten lurks and how to replace it without taking away from the dish. Sometimes, you can even find substitutions that make your favorite dishes even better. Once you're done, your guests might not even notice that everything on the table is safe for those who follow a gluten-free diet. This is ideal, in fact, since many people believe that gluten-free food is less appealing and/or inferior to conventional gluten-containing food.

Thankfully, there are actually plenty of convenient gluten-free foods and ingredients for Thanksgiving you can use as shortcuts, or you can decide to make everything on your menu from scratch—your choice.

Your Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Meal

From the turkey to the pie, here's what you need to do to make your holiday table gluten-free:

The Turkey

You can't go wrong with a simple turkey. Fresh, plain turkeys—those without any added broth, spices, or other ingredients—are always gluten-free. If you prefer a smoked or pre-flavored turkey, don't buy it pre-made unless you can verify it's gluten-free. Generally speaking, it's always better to smoke and flavor your own turkey than to trust a pre-made variety.

Don't open or use any gravy packet that's included with a turkey unless it specifically states "gluten-free," as pre-made gravies almost certainly contain gluten. One final turkey caveat: Whatever you do, don't eat gluten-stuffed turkey, as the meat will likely have come in contact with gluten.

Stuffing

You don't need to mourn your favorite stuffing. It's very easy to make gluten-free stuffing, and once you add spices and other ingredients, your stuffing is likely to taste almost exactly the way you remember it. You can use a pre-made gluten-free stuffing mix or simply use gluten-free bread crumbs (either packaged or from your own stale bread) in your own traditional recipe—you shouldn't even need to alter the recipe. 

If you add spices, make sure they're from a safe source, such as fresh herbs from the produce section of the supermarket or brands of gluten-free spices, including McCormick's single-ingredient dried herbs and spices and Spicely Organic. 

Cranberry Sauce

There's no reason cranberry sauce needs to contain gluten, so this should be an easy item to check off your list—there are multiple gluten-free cranberry sauce options available, including the ubiquitous Ocean Spray brand. You can also make your own from fresh cranberries (you'll find bags of them in the grocery store) or you can purchase a store-bought cranberry sauce.

If you decide to make your own cranberry sauce, you'll simply simmer cranberries with sweetener (sugar or honey work well) and spices added to taste. Cover the berries in liquid (water or juice) and cook them down to your desired consistency. It couldn't be easier—or more delicious.

Mashed Potatoes

Like cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes don't usually contain gluten. Most recipes simply call for fresh potatoes, butter, and some milk or cream. Skin and boil the potatoes, mash them, add the butter and a little milk, and whip them with a hand mixer until they reach the right consistency. Some brands of instant mashed potatoes are gluten-free, as well, but you're better off making your own.

Meanwhile, some other favorite potato dishes such as au gratin potatoes do typically contain gluten, so be sure to follow a specific gluten-free recipe, which essentially means omitting the flour.

Sweet Potatoes

Some recipes for candied sweet potatoes include flour as an ingredient, but the vast majority are already gluten-free. So, you can likely use your old family recipe. The same goes for recipes using marshmallow topping, as most marshmallows sold in the United States are gluten-free. Stick with Kraft Brand or Campfire marshmallows and you'll be fine. 

If there is a gluten-containing ingredient (most likely flour) in your sweet potato recipe, simply omit it. All you really need for tasty baked sweet potatoes is butter, salt, and sweet potatoes (and brown sugar, if making the candied kind).

If making candied sweet potatoes, use a fresh box of brown sugar, as an opened box could have been cross-contaminated with a spoon during a previous baking session with wheat flour.

Gravy

Many of us grew up watching our mothers make Thanksgiving gravy using the turkey pan drippings, plus wheat flour. Fortunately, it's incredibly easy to make gluten-free gravy—just substitute corn starch for the flour. You also can use a gluten-free gravy mix. McCormick's offers one that's available in many stores.

Again, make sure you don't use the packets of gravy mix that come with certain turkeys, since they likely contain gluten (unless specifically marked "gluten-free").

Dinner Rolls

If you're trying to make your gluten-free Thanksgiving meal indistinguishable from a traditional, gluten-filled meal, dinner rolls are the one item that may trip you up. We all know it can be difficult to make excellent gluten-free bread, and rolls are no exception.

However, gluten-free bread products definitely have gotten much better over the past few years. Now, there are dinner rolls your guests might mistake for gluten-filled—the key is using an exceptional gluten-free dinner roll recipe. Alternatively, instead of rolls, you might consider deviating a little from the traditional menu by trying a gluten-free cornbread recipe, which may be a bit more forgiving to make for novice gluten-free chefs.

Pumpkin Pie

The trick to making a delectable gluten-free pie is placing the emphasis on the filling, rather than the crust. That said, you can certainly make a good gluten-free pie crust. Another easy option is to purchase a frozen, pre-made one, which you can find at many high-end grocery stores.

Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin is gluten-free, so you can safely use that as the base for your filling. Most pumpkin pie filling recipes are already gluten-free, as well, so if you have a favorite, you should be able to use it. Or try out a new one. Just make sure that all your other ingredients—spices, mainly—are from safe sources.

A Word from Verywell

Creating an entirely gluten-free and delicious Thanksgiving dinner is not as challenging as it seems, especially if you take advantage of gluten-free shortcuts like pre-made gluten-free pie crusts and stuffing mixes. A little extra meal planning makes it possible to keep all your family members and guests (gluten-eating and gluten-free) happy, sated, and safe.

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